As the divorce rate rose in the last 30 years (with custody going mostly to the mothers), and births to unwed women soared, social scientists felt compelled to look into social development of the children without live-in dads to see if they fared as well as those who do have fathers in residence.
They found that while many children raised without fathers in the home turn out fine, most agree that it is crucial for men to be involved in their children's lives -- unless they are abusive.
Some family experts believe that the absence of a father in child’s life is linked to risky behavior in youth due to the lack of a male role model.
It has been linked to dropping out of school, early sexuality, substance abuse, criminal behavior and general "acting out." And, generally speaking, any man in the home will not do. Children living with a step-father do not fare as well as those growing up in intact traditional families; children who share a home with the mother's boyfriend do even worse.
A study by Duke, Auburn and Indiana university researchers found that girls whose fathers abandoned the family before the child turned 6 were eight times more likely to become pregnant in their teen years than girls who grew up with their fathers in the home. When poverty and existing behavioral problems were factored in, the girls were still five times more likely to become pregnant.
Most divorced dads fall into two categories -- those who want to more spend time with their children than was customary in custody arrangements of the past, and those who eventually drift away after divorce. I would like to note that what I am observing a very positive trend: more and more dads want to have a shared custody of their children and be involved in their children’s lives. Some dads even want to have 50/50 physical custody arrangements so that the children would spend equal amount of time in mom’s and dad’s houses. I invest a lot of time with the divorcing couples explaining to them how crucial it is for the fathers to be present in their children’s lives. I sometimes am challenged with mothers’ resentment towards granting shared custody to the fathers. When I dig deeper into this issue, I am mostly finding the feelings of anger, resentment and hurt on mothers’ side. It is not that they feel the lack of trust towards their soon to be ex-husbands, nor because these fathers are abusive. The women use the custody as a means to punish their ex-spouses. In the heat of the moment these women tend not to recognize the fact that, as noted earlier, the fathers’ presence in the children’s lives is critical to their healthy emotional development.
To be a mediator for couples when such important questions are discussed, to help these couples to arrive at the decisions that are fair to both of them as well as beneficial to their children is a difficult role that can be challenging at times. Yet, it brings me a great deal of satisfaction when parents are able to put behind their anger, frustration and resentment towards each other and become a united front for their children even after their divorce.